Go Set a Watchman is set in the 1950s and ties in with the When Are You Reading? Challenge I am taking part in.
26-year-old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch returns on her fifth annual trip home to Maycomb, Alabama from New York city, to visit her father, Atticus. But her homecoming is soon greeted with a rude awakening. Amid growing civil rights tensions and political unrest in the South, Jean Louise’s eyes are opened to her family members and friends. She wonders whether her father and role model, Atticus Finch, is the man she thought he was. Memories of her childhood years resurface as Jean Louise’s values are thrown into turmoil and she questions her conscience.
I have mixed feelings about this book. Part of me wishes I hadn’t read it. On the other hand, it has put some things into perspective. Compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, there’s not much of a plot in Go Set a Watchman. Perhaps my expectations were too high. This is, after all, the first draft of the novel and it was not edited which should be taken into consideration.
Early on in the novel, there is a startling revelation about the fate of one of the main characters from TKAM. Although some of the characters from the original book are sadly missing, there are new characters including Jean Louise’s beau, Henry Clinton, and her Uncle Jack. Watchman can be described as a coming-of-age novel. It’s about Scout growing up and discovering some uncomfortable truths about the people she loves. I prefer the flashback episodes from when Scout is a child. They are more interesting, in fact, younger Scout is more interesting. Adult Scout is jaded as she reflects on the sad world we live in. Watchman highlights tribalism not just in relation to race, but also class. To her credit, Jean Louise is a feminist who is ahead of her time, and Harper Lee’s distinctive warm humour shines through.
This is a thought-provoking book. I purposefully only read a few pages a day so that I could let the words and ideas sink in. The message of Watchman is that we should try to understand other people’s bigoted views, instead of dismissing them out of hand. I will admit that, like Jean Louise, I was disappointed in Atticus’s stance on a particular subject. Jean Louise’s Uncle Jack alludes to a view that people who accuse others of being bigots are actually bigots themselves because they refuse to see another person’s point of view. It’s an interesting opinion. Personally, I would draw the line when someone starts spouting hatred. Atticus, however, allows shady individuals to have a platform in order to better understand their motives. His reasoning is that knowledge is power.
Jean Louise, like many readers of Mockingbird, put Atticus on a pedestal. Watchman illustrates how Atticus is a fallible human. When all is said and done, Atticus is still Jean Louise’s father and she still loves him. He is entitled to his opinion, even if Jean Louise disagrees with it.
My rating: ★★★★☆